I wish I could say that revolutionizing newsrooms like the one I left at the Los Angeles Times in January 2008 is all that’s needed to change the fortunes of American journalism. But I can’t.
– James O’SheaI believe the news industry in America needs a revolution that goes far beyond a bottom line. We need to restore the soul of journalism and the revolt should be led by journalists—particularly young ones, the industry’s best hope. Younger journalists should free themselves from the shackles of my generation and seize the opportunity in this adversity.
The trouble with journalists like me is we spent our lives working for corporations—not evil organizations but institutions that grew more soulless as they aged. It’s almost as if we looked at them like they were Dad, someone to pay and solve our problems, no questions asked. We developed a dependency that delegated the solving of our problems to the people who ran these companies—a class of accountants and professional managers as interested in the health of the first quarter as in the First Amendment.
As journalism continues its inexorable march online, a new generation of journalists should realize something: You don’t need these guys.
Technology will level the playing field. Even now, it doesn’t cost that much to acquire databases, and data can be mined in places like the Philippines where labor is cheap.
Journalists can capitalize on these new sources of information to form small, nimble companies that can reach deeply into the community and cover it with the passion and commitment that is rare today. If you are producing journalism that your readers can’t get anywhere else, they will value it, pay more for it, and become the kind of committed audience that a smaller universe of advertisers wants to reach.
If I had the resources that I had at my disposal when I was editor of the Los Angeles Times, I would focus them on producing unparalleled coverage of the state of California. But the real question isn’t what I would do. It is what you, a younger generation, unencumbered by my dependencies, should do to capitalize on the opportunity to occupy journalism.
You don’t have to go to work for some company that is trying to get journalism on the cheap by paying you $30,000 a year. Start something on your own. Report and don’t just repeat. And don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is good for the soul.
So go out there and give readers an alternative to the superficial. Infuse your effort with a passion for true journalism. Cover the community; give the public what it deserves: Journalism—with a soul.